Four Benedictine Sisters celebrate 50-year jubilee of taking their vows
By Nicole Davis
They didn’t know it then, but they were breaking barriers.
Sisters Juliann Babcock, Angela Jarboe, Mary Sue Freiberger and Mary Luke Jones entered the convent shortly after Vatican II, a time of big change for Catholic Church practices. As Catholic nuns, they received their higher education at a Methodist college, switched from wearing the habit to more culturally-relevant attire and were even able to discern their own career paths – things that were unheard of previously.
On June 9, the four Sisters will celebrate their Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years since they took their vows in 1968.
“We were one of the last of the classes to enter after high school,” Jones said. “This is a commitment we made when we were 18 years old. There was something in all of us that knew that this is what we wanted. I used to say to people I would not have been any more ready to get married when I was 18 than fly to the moon. I wouldn’t have even considered it. For some reason, this life attracted me and when I came, as far as I was concerned, it was forever.”
Ten students entered the convent, or monastery, on Sept. 7, 1966. They took their vows two years later in 1968. Five women eventually took their final vows. One classmate passed away shortly after their 25th jubilee.
“The church gives us plenty of time to realize this is the life we want to lead for the rest of our lives,” Jones said. “I never had any doubts, ever. I feel that’s just because of the grace of God. I thank God for that.”
Freiberger, Jarboe and Babcock were previously students at Our Lady of Grace Academy, a boarding and day school that opened in 1956, eventually closing in 1978. Jones wasn’t a student there, but attended that year’s graduation ceremony in support of a friend.
The Sisters were one of the first classes to attend Indiana Central University, now University of Indianapolis, a Methodist college. They needed an education and the closest Catholic college, Marian University, was on the other side of town whereas Indiana Central was 10 minutes away.
“We had this big, international harvester van and every morning we’d pile in there with our books,” Jones said. “They called us the God Squad. It was quite the scene.”
The Sisters also formed a band in 1979, the Beech Grove Benedictines, writing their own music, singing and playing their instruments as a deputation team for Indiana Central. They performed at university events and around the city. That venture ended in 2001. Today, they have a total of five tapes/CDs, still for sale at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center.
“We were young and probably naive,” Jarboe said. “We were out, we were among the people. It was exciting.”
The Sisters all majored in elementary education, except for Freiberger, who concentrated in mathematics. They all went on to teach.
Babcock later served as vocation director, formation director, subpriores and then prioress of the community for six years. She was one of three sisters who took the former academy building and formed the Benedict Inn in 1981.
Jones served as principal of Christ the King for nine years before returning to the monestary as director of development and later director of the Benedict Inn.
Jarboe started out as an elementary teacher where she began looking for something that would allow her to work with adults. That led her to become director of religious education in Springfield, Ohio for 21 years. She earned a degree in theology from University of Dayton in 2001 to keep up with her work.
Freiberger started in the math department at Our Lady of Grace Academy, getting promoted to head of the math department before the academy closed. She taught at Providence High School and then Cathedral High School for 27 years.
Their vocations may have put them on separate paths but they eventually reunited.
“All roads lead to Our Lady of Grace,” Jones said.
Jarboe returned to the monastery in 2010 where she now does programming at Benedict Inn. Jones returned her position as director of development, where she remains an active member of the greater Beech Grove community. Freiberger is an avid gardener who enjoys spending time at the Benedict Inn’s Peace & Nature Garden and painting. Babcok’s talents include playing guitar, organ, pottery and calligraphy.
The Sisters will celebrate their 50-year jubilee with a Mass and dinner with family and friends on June 9. They will renew the vows that they took five decades ago by reading them aloud during the Mass.
“This community has always celebrated jubilees,” Jarboe said. “I thought jubilee were always someone else’s celebration. When we were young, it feels like it was so far away. All of a sudden, it’s me. You just live your life and all of a sudden, it happens.”
The women who came to Our Lady of Grace at 18 years old said they are looking forward to the celebration. Who better to celebrate it with than each other, the Sisters who have essentially grown up together and supported one another in their lifelong walk of faith?
“We did everything together,” Jarboe said. “We worked together. We played together.”
Jones added, “This has been a wonderful life. We’re a member of that community that supports us, assists us and takes care of us. We give back as good as we get.”
What inspired you to become a Catholic nun?
Sister Angela Jarboe
As a boarder at Our Lady of Grace Academy, when Sister Angela Jarboe wasn’t in school, she and her family were always at church.
“We knew the Sisters on a first-name basis,” she said. “There was always a Sister in the picture somewhere, either a teacher or my mom knew them. I grew up from second grade on knowing I wanted to be a Sister like Sister Mary Carol who is still living here. My second grade teacher is still living here in this community. I think that is so fascinating. You just love your teachers. The Sisters were always so happy. That struck me.”
Sister Mary Luke Jones
A graduate of Seymour High School, Sister Mary Luke Jones enrolled at Purdue University to study pharmacy, although it wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do. She and her siblings were raised Catholic, although her father was not of the Catholic faith.
“He would participate in first communions, confirmations and was very supportive of our Catholic faith, but he did not practice it himself,” Jones said. “His father was a pharmacist and owned a drug store. My dad was going to Purdue to become a pharmacist but was drafted in WWII and never went back to school. This dream of being a pharmacist was visited on me.”
Yet, there was something about the Sisters she grew up with that she admired and desired to follow in their footsteps.
“I was a bit hesitant when I decided to come here,” Jones said. “At that time, the Sisters were either teachers or domestics, a sister who lived on the mission and prepared meals, did the laundry. Now, it’s much broader. To think of being a pharmacist and Benedictine, those two things didn’t jive. I said to my dad, ‘I know you always wanted me to be a pharmacist.’ He said, ‘Yes, I did, but if you want to be a Sister, I just want you to be the best one you can be.’ He was very supportive of this community and the life I had chosen. It was very kind of him.”
Sister Mary Sue Freiberger
Sister Mary Sue Freiberger is from a Catholic family, growing up on a farm in Southern Indiana close to their church. In her youth, she wanted to be a forest ranger. She was always outside, sitting in a tree at home or working on the farm. God had another calling for her. Taught by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, she always knew what she was actually going to do.
“I was going to be a Sister,” she said. “Our whole class became teachers. That’s just what we did in those days. My classmates mostly changed to other careers. I stayed a teacher for 45 years, teaching high school mathematics. In between, I’ve done a lot of other things.”
She later continued, “I touched a lot of lives. I didn’t want to tell someone how to go to God, but I could just be the person I was. I couldn’t tell someone how to be, but I could teach them mathematics.”
Freiberger still finds ways to enjoy the outdoors through gardening and spending time in Our Lady of Grace’s Peace & Nature Garden.